Recently I have noticed a new snare from corporate charter cheerleaders. The approach is for them to ask you to tell them which corporate charters school you love/like. This is a clever trap. My response is, “Why don’t you tell me the worst offenders on the issues of equity and access and tell me which ones we should close?” Then wait for the pregnant silence.
How do you evaluate a charter school? Should the only consideration be test scores?… or a school’s marketing brochures?… self-reported college application and acceptance rate? Or maybe we should be okay with a particular corporate charter because they are just the “it” school in the media and for foundations this year. In most states there is data readily available to assess charter schools. In fact, this blog was created two years ago to respond to KIPP press release about a peer reviewed study that took issue with African American student attrition out of KIPP and other charters in Texas. Someone recently brought to my attention that back in March KIPP again responded to the study due to this editorial that was eventually published in the San Antonio Express News. Their response was that it was “biased” data. How data provided by the state of Texas via a public information request can be “biased” is still eluding me. But data is power, and so I hope to encourage citizens via this blog post to do their homework.
In the 2014 NEPC Teach For America (TFA) brief we created a citizen research template to empower communities to study and evaluate TFA in each community. Because I often received requests from across Texas and the nation about various charters, I wanted to create a citizen research template to assess charter schools. This will be a work in progress— I don’t expect that this post will get it perfectly right. However, as a first draft I want to put together a list of research questions that citizens can ask to obtain qualitative and quantitative data to assess any charter school. Your can collect personally and obtain from federal and state data that may or may not contradict a charter schools’ “internal” data. Similar to the TFA research template, I believe it is important to verify charters’ “internal” data independently via federal or state data sources that are typically readily available online or via Freedom of Information requests. Because I loved his piece so much, many of the equity and access questions are based on Kevin Welner’s Dirty Dozen.
Charter Citizen Research Template
- What is the college success rate of graduates? (not applications or entrance, but completion of first year and then graduation)
- What type of curriculum is offered?
- How do student perform on exams?
- Who does the school particularly cater to?
Teachers and Leaders
- Are all school staff state certified for their positions?
- What is the turnover of school staff?
Equity and Access
- Who does the school cater to relative to local traditional public schools? (ELL student, At-risk students, Special Education) How do the proportions of these populations compare to traditional public schools situated nearby?
- What is the evidence that the school advertises to attract students who speak Spanish and are low-income families? Are the advertising images attractive to diverse students or only a “college-prep” demographic?
- What conditions are placed on enrollment? Is it as hard to enroll in a particular charter as it is to vote in Texas for a person of color?
- Do they require mandatory essays?
- Special pre-enrollments only for certain students?
- Require placement tests for certain programs?
- Mandatory character references?
- Required parental visits?
- Brief enrollment periods?
- Are social security cards and birth certificates required for enrollment?
- Do you have to declare a disability at enrollment?
- Do they charge substantial fees for Pre-K and then give preference to those student for continued enrollment?
- Does the charter require a particular grade point average to enroll?
- Do parents have to commit to a certain number of volunteer hours during the day?
- Are there complaints online from parents who have been steered away from the school when trying to enroll or encouraged to leave the school because their student has special needs?
- Does the school offer the services that special needs students require?
- Have parents posted comments online that their students were threatened with grade retention if they did not leave? Or been counseled out because “they aren’t responding” to the context of the school?
- Does the charter have higher discipline referrals and explusion rates than nearby traditional public schools nearby? How do discipline rates vary by race/ethnicity and gender?
- Does the school have higher rates of mobility and attrition than nearby traditional public schools? How do mobility and attrition rates vary by race/ethnicity and gender?
In sum, don’t believe the slick promotion materials and “internal” data any more than you would a sweaty used car salesman. Gather the quantitative data and also qualitative data by talking to parents of students, teachers and administrators who are currently located at the school AND who have left the school to get a full picture of a charter school’s context.
Ever talk to a former KIPP teacher? 😉 I have, and what they will tell you, you won’t find in KIPP’s brochures and marketing materials.
I believe we must also find ways to share this data nationwide because not every parent has the time necessary to collect and analyze the readily available public information— a charter Yelp! so to speak.
For all of Cloaking Inequity’s post on charter click here.
p.s. Whatever I missed, please leave your ideas in the comments and I will add them to the citizen research template as necessary.
p.s.s. Is there a volunteer out there that can translate the Charter School Citizen Research Template into Spanish better than I can?
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